FAURE: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 (Dong-Suk Kang/ Joël Perrot/ Pascal Devoyon) (Naxos: 8.550906)
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Gabriel Fauré (1845 - 1924)
Violin Sonata No.1 in A Major, Op. 13
Berceuse, Op. 16
Romance, Op. 28
Andante, Op. 75
Violin Sonata No.2 in E Minor, Op. 108
The sixth and youngest child of a father with some aristocratic connections, a former teacher, employed in the educational inspectorate and then as director of a teachers' training college, Gabriel Fauré was encouraged by his family in his early musical ambitions. His professional training, designed to allow him a career as a choirmaster, was at the Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris, where, by good fortune, he met Saint-Saëns, who taught the piano at the school. This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted until the death of Saint-Saëns in 1921.
Fauré completed his studies at the Ecole Niedermeyer in 1865 and the following year took up an appointment as organist at the church of St Sauveur in Rennes, turning his attention increasingly, during four years of this provincial exile, to composition. After similar less important appointments in Paris, in 1871 he became assistant organist at St Sulpice, later moving to the Madeleine as deputy to Saint-Saëns and subsequently as choirmaster, when Theodore Dubois succeeded Saint-Saëns in 1877. Marriage in 1883 and the birth of two sons brought financial responsibilities that Fauré met by his continued employment at the Madeleine and by teaching. At the same time he wrote a large number of songs, while remaining, as always, intensely critical of his own work, particularly with regard to works on a larger scale.
The last decade of the nineteenth century brought Fauré more public recognition. In 1892 he became inspector of French provincial conservatories and four years later principal organist at the Madeleine, in the same year finding, at last, employment as teacher of composition at the Conservatoire, the way now open to him after the death of the old director Ambroise Thomas, who had found Fauré too much of a modernist for such a position. His association with the Conservatoire, where his pupils over the years included Ravel, Charles Koechlin, Georges Enescu and Nadia Boulanger, led, in 1905, to his appointment as director, in the aftermath of the scandal that had denied the Prix de Rome to Ravel. He remained in this position until 1920, his time for composition initially limited by administrative responsibilities, although he was later able to devote himself more fully to this, adding yet again to the repertoire of French song, together with chamber music and works for piano. His musical language bridged a gap between the romanticism of the nineteenth century and the world of music that had appeared with the new century, developing and evolving, but retaining its own fundamental characteristics. Fauré's harmonic idiom with its subtle changes of tonality and his gift for melody, combine with an understanding of the way contemporary innovations might be used in a way completely his own. His contribution to French music as a composer must lie chiefly in his songs, his piano music and his chamber music, although works like the poignant Requiem have an unassailable place in choral repertoire.
The first of Fauré's two violin sonatas, the Sonata in A major, Op. 13, was written in 1875 and 1876 and published the following year. It owes its origin partly to the foundation of the Société nationale de musique by Saint-Saëns in 1871, an organization that allowed the public performance of music by younger composers. The sonata owed much too to the Belgian violinist Hubert Léonard, who had established himself in Paris in 1866. Fauré worked on the sonata while staying at Sainte-Adresse in Normandy, at the house of the well-to-do businessman Camille Clerc. It was dedicated to Paul Viardot, son of the singer Pauline Viardot and brother of the girl he hoped to marry. It was first performed at a concert of the Société nationale on 27th January 1877 by the violinist Marie Tayau, with the composer. The first movement is introduced by the piano, soon joined by the violin in a variation of the theme. The violin is first entrusted with the contrasting second theme and the exposition is repeated, before the material is developed in a central section of the movement in which Fauré makes his customary use of enharmonic shifts of key. The second movement is a gently lilting D minor Andante, based principally on two related themes in which both instruments have their share. The scherzo provides an immediate contrast and struck its first audience by its originality. There is a relaxation of tension in the F sharp minor trio section. The final Allegro quasi presto, with its two principal themes and central development, with a following recapitulation, after which the first theme is used to introduce a final section.
The musical language of Fauré as a writer of songs is immediately apparent in the first violin sonata. Something of the same quality is evident in the Berceuse of 1879, first performed at the Société nationale on 14th February 1880 by the violinist Ovide Musin, who also played the arrangement of the work for violin and orchestra at a concert two months later. The Berceuse proved widely popular, something that was not entirely to Fauré's advantage, since its appearance in salon and even cafe repertoire might have been seen to detract from rather than add to his reputation.
The B flat major Romance for violin and piano was first performed at the Société nationale on 9th February 1883 by the composer Arma Harkness, to whom the piece was dedicated. It had been written six years earlier at Cauterets, where he was taking a cure and suffering in the absence and continuing indecision of Marianne Viardot, to whom he was officially engaged. In a letter to Marie Clerc Fauré compared its melodic contour to the surrounding mountain ridges of the Pyrenées at Cauterets.
It seems probable that the B flat Andante for violin and piano, dedicated to the violinist Johannes Wolff and published in 1897, was at the very least based on the slow movement of the violin concerto on which Fauré was working in 1878 and 1879. The Andante from the concerto was, in any case, first performed in public in 1878 by Ovide Musin with the pianist and composer André Messager.
Fauré wrote his second sonata for violin and piano during the summer of 1916, which he spent staying with friends at Evian. It was completed towards the end of the year, when Conservatoire business allowed him time. He dedicated the sonata, which was first performed at the Société nationale by Lucien Capet and Alfred Cortot in November 1917, to Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians. In essential structure the first movement of the Sonata in E minor is tripartite. The exposition contains two contrasting melodies, separated by a third, and these are all further developed in the extended central section of the movement. The recapitulation, in a changed metre, is followed by a coda in which the principal thematic material again appears.
The musical language is again instantly recognisable. The principal theme of the Andante is taken from the slow movement of Fauré's rejected symphony of 1884, a fine, long-drawn melody, followed now by a wide-spaced secondary theme. The sonata ends with a movement in sonata-rondo form. The principal theme is heard at the outset. The violin ushers in the material of a first episode and after the refrain the piano introduces a further theme. The melodic material subsequently re-appears in recapitulation